For some students, high school's a beach

Posted at 8:54 AM, Nov 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-19 08:54:54-05

Each school day, as students around the Tri-State are solving algebra equations, studying literature and peering through microscopes, some high schoolers are getting an education in less traditional subjects.

From English classes centered on heroes to marine biology, kids are expanding their horizons within their classrooms.

While the benefits vary depending on the subject, the bottom line is that classes that stray from the norm tend to get students’ interest. If a course appeals to students, it gives them a sense of choice in what they study, which fosters engagement.

“They’re more motivated to take a course they’re interested in,” said Heidi Murray, guidance department chair at Kings Local Schools.

Students at Lebanon High School who enjoy music but aren’t inclined to perform, for example, have the option to study music technology.

“My class is kind of focused on the cognitive end of it,” music technology teacher Will Kuhn said.

As students learn about topics including Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, mixes and studio production, they are creating a portfolio of songs.

“By the end of it, they’ve got a pretty comprehensive experience with making music of different styles and learning different production techniques,” Kuhn said.

Students don’t need any experience to take the class.

“It’s one of the only high school music classes designed from the ground up for beginners,” Kuhn said.

The course’s appeal for those without experience may account for some of its popularity. Created during the 2006-07 school year, the class is one of the biggest music technology programs in the country. Nearly 400 students are taking the course this school year.

Fort Thomas School District offers seniors at Highlands High School an opportunity to get a head start on education degrees with a first-year college course available through a partnership with Thomas More College.

In the year-long class, students learn about topics such as diversity in the classroom, where curriculum comes from and how to develop lesson plans. They also do observations in classrooms and work with students in the district’s elementary schools.

“It’s providing students direct exposure to the field,” said Gene Kirchner, superintendent for Fort Thomas Schools.
By the end of the course, most students have a feel for whether or not they want to pursue an education career, said Kirchner, who co-teaches the course along with Assistant Superintendent Ginger Webb.

“We like the idea of growing our own teachers,” Webb said.

“When you’re a district level administrator, you have all the qualifications necessary to teach EDU 101,” Kirchner added. “Why not encourage students to consider a career in education?”

While other dual-credit college opportunities are available at high schools throughout Northern Kentucky, he said he does not know of any other districts that offer the education course.

At Waynesville High School, students can study tropical ecosystems in a marine biology course. The curriculum covers everything from different kinds of shorelines to mangrove swamps and coral reefs.

“We kind of start on the land and then work our way out to the coral reefs,” said marine biology teacher Patrick Hardin.

Students also learn about water quality and environmental issues, he said.

While they study most of the material in a classroom setting, students also get first-hand marine biology experience with a week-long trip to the Bahamian Andros Island.

“I think what sets it apart is just the experience of seeing a different part of the world,” Hardin said.

The experience provides hands-on learning and introduces students to a field they may not have otherwise considered.

“After the trip, they kind of open their minds to other career possibilities,” Hardin said.

This is his first year teaching marine biology, but he has seen his advanced placement biology students shift their focus from medical careers to researching other ecosystems after taking the course.

Kings High School juniors and seniors have the opportunity to embark on a different kind of adventure in an English class revolving around heroes.

Kings High School teacher Andrea Wheeler proposed the class, which was first made available last year, in an effort to engage students with a college-oriented approach.

“I wanted to give students – especially seniors – a choice of a class that resembles something they could take on the college level and something that would appeal to seniors,” she said.

The semester-long course traces heroes’ journeys through films such as “The Goonies” and “Star Wars,” as well as texts, like “Beowulf.”

While some students struggle with a traditional approach to classic texts, the less traditional approach helps them to see a connection to their own lives. This, in turn, lends itself to the complex thinking Wheeler seeks to instill in her students.

“It’s really important to me that they’re able to translate what they do in class to a college level,” she said.